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Racial Profiling of African American Drivers

Have you ever wondered how to behave on the road while being an African American male? “Driving while black” is a concept that is widely used by journalists and bloggers to draw the audience’s attention to the problem of racial profiling (Epp, Maynard-Moody, & Haider-Markel, 2014; Legewie, 2016). Even though much effort has been made to address and prevent racial profiling in the U.S. society, the problem still exists, and African American men can experience some stress while driving because of fears to be stopped by a police officer (Epp, Maynard‐Moody, & Haider‐Markel, 2017). Nevertheless, race and gender biases on the road can be addressed concerning some easy rules. Knowing how to behave in the situation of an investigatory stop, an African American male can feel more confident and focused on protecting his rights.

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  • Steps Pull over to the roadside when noticing police signals to stop. It is important to make sure that your vehicle does not obstruct the traffic on the road. Furthermore, you should not forget to use your turn signals (Epp et al., 2014; Legewie, 2016). Try to choose an appropriate place for parking because this step will allow you and a police officer to discuss the reason for an investigatory stop and conduct all the required procedures without thinking about the traffic on the road (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017).
  • Keep your hands visible when a police officer approaches you. Thus, remember that you just need to turn off the car and put your hands on the steering wheel. At this stage, do not make any chaotic, fast, or unnecessary movements like turning on lights and looking around because they can confuse a police officer (Hayle, Wortley, & Tanner, 2016). It is important to remember that police officer are also focused on their safety (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017).
  • Avoid sudden movements while looking for your documents in a car and giving them to a police officer. At this stage, calmness is also critical because you are directly approaching an officer while giving him your documents. Sudden or unexpected movements can provoke an officer’s reaction regardless of a driver’s race or gender (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017). Therefore, it is impossible to speak about police officers’ aggression or brutality in a situation when they can consider it as rather threatening because of a driver’s unusual or inadequate behavior (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016).
  • Ask a police officer about the reasons for stopping you. Thus, remember that after providing a police officer with your documents (your license and registration), you can ask the question about reasons for an investigatory stop. However, also remember that an officer should initiate the conversation and provide some instructions to follow before you can ask some questions (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016; Legewie, 2016). Moreover, it is extremely important to be calm and demonstrate an interest in resolving the issue to avoid any misinterpretations of your behavior (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017).
  • Be polite and attentive while speaking to a police officer. It is inappropriate to behave aggressively and offend officers (Epp et al., 2017). Despite your attitude to the “driving while black” problem, it is inappropriate to demonstrate any type of aggression about police officers to avoid an arrest (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017).
  • Do not use humor, sarcasm, or irony while answering questions asked by an officer. Using humor and irony is good when you want to make a conversation more positive and an atmosphere more comfortable, but an investigatory stop is not an appropriate situation to demonstrate such skills. Effective answers to officers’ questions are usually concise and direct (Epp et al., 2014; Epp et al., 2017). Remember that using “yes” or “no” is appropriate because any information you can provide during this conversation is recorded, and it can be used later. Still, make sure that you provide true information and do not mislead a police officer (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016; Legewie, 2016).
  • Follow a police officer’s instructions strictly. In all cases on the road, officers will provide you with some instructions. It is important to follow them without any delay, but it is also important to avoid any unnecessary movements or words (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016).
  • Control your body language and gesture while speaking to a police officer. Remain calm at all stages of the procedure. Your reactions to an officer’s questions can be used against you. If you are asked to take a breathalyzer test, in most cases, it is necessary to perform this test. You can also be asked to take a sobriety test (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016; Legewie, 2016). In this case, pay even more attention to controlling your body and movements to avoid situations when an officer suspects you driving while being intoxicated.
  • Use your right not to answer an officer’s questions if they are not related to the information on your license and other documents. It is possible to politely refuse to answer any questions that can compromise you (Legewie, 2016). The reason for such behaving is that African American males are still leaders among those drivers who are asked to stop on the road, as it is shown in Table 1 about stop operations in New York City (Legewie, 2016). Therefore, remember about your right to remain silent if a police officer cannot formulate a good reason for stopping you, and if he asks some provocative questions, the answers to which can be used against you.
Stop Operations in New York City.
Table 1. Stop Operations in New York City, NY, 2006-2012. (Legewie, 2016, p. 383).
  • Use your knowledge regarding reasonable and unreasonable searches in your car. A police officer can search a car while having a warrant or clearly stating a reason. Furthermore, your consent is also required to search if reasons for it are not clearly stated (Epp et al., 2014; Hayle et al., 2016; Legewie, 2016). The focus on these rights is important to prevent racial profiling that is “a form of discrimination by which law enforcement uses a person’s race or ethnicity as a key reason to engage in various forms of enforcement” (Legewie, 2016, p. 382). From this point, driving while an African American means focusing on human rights and understanding laws and policies, according to which investigatory stops can be conducted.


Epp, C. R., Maynard-Moody, S., & Haider-Markel, D. P. (2014). Pulled over: How police stops define race and citizenship. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Epp, C. R., Maynard‐Moody, S., & Haider‐Markel, D. P. (2017). Beyond profiling: The institutional sources of racial disparities in policing. Public Administration Review, 77(2), 168-178.

Hayle, S., Wortley, S., & Tanner, J. (2016). Race, street life, and policing: Implications for racial profiling. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 58(3), 322-353.

Legewie, J. (2016). Racial profiling and use of force in police stops: How local events trigger periods of increased discrimination. American Journal of Sociology, 122(2), 379-424.

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